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If you’ve ever had a song stuck in your head, which is also called an earworm, you know how truly annoying it can be. A study conducted by James K. Kellaris at the University of Cincinnati worked with over 1000 participants to break down why songs get stuck in our heads. He found that 99% of the study participants had occasionally experienced earworms. Of these people, 73.7% were most likely to have a song with lyrics stuck in their head. 18.6% got ads or jingle earworms, and 7.7% got earworms of instrumental music.
The question remains of how to get a song out of your head, and although there is no one proven method, there are numerous suggestions to try. In all seriousness, some people, especially the elderly who may have reduced mental function, may get a song so badly stuck for such a lengthy time period, that they benefit from medications like Prozac. For most suffering with an earworm, there are many other ways to get it out of your head without medication.
Though we might be deluged with ABBA, John Mellencamp, “It’s a Small World” or other simple but repetitive songs in our head, we can mentally turn these tunes down. Very consciously, turn the song down to a whisper volume in your head. If it gets louder again, keep turning it down.
Another trick to get a song out of your head is to go someplace where you can sing or listen to the entire song at full volume. We often only have a part of the song stuck in our head. Singing the entire song releases the brain from the repetition, and it works better than simply listening. It doesn’t matter if you’re a good singer or a truly lousy one. If you don’t have lyrics, you can get the lyrics to just about any song from many sources on the Internet.
If you really don’t want to sing, you might try either physical or mental exercise to get a song out of your head. Try a jog around the block, push-ups or pull-ups, or a few minutes of dancing to your internal song. Alternately, a mental puzzle might distract you. Play a challenging game of sudoku, do a crossword puzzle, try to solve a Rubik’s cube, or try solving a logic puzzle.
Many advocate having “antidote” songs to get a song out of your head. If you seem plagued with a particularly annoying song, choose another simple song with repetitive lyrics or instrumental simplicity to think of instead. The one downside to the antidote song is it may become your next earworm. Some suggest having an antidote to the antidote in order to keep another song from getting stuck.
If you have songs get stuck in your head often, consider some different music choices. First, keep the radio off. Repetitive jingles or play lists can become your next earworms. Second, choose to listen to complexly structured music. If you listen to a band like Rush, or a jazz band like Pat Metheny, you’ll have a hard time keeping up with the time signatures, since they change quickly. Modern composers like Phillip Glass, Bela Bartok or others may help to keep earworms from getting stuck.
Alternately, listen to music that is not Western. For example, gamelan music from Indonesia is so different from Western music that it can often confuse the brain and keep it from sticking on a particular song. Also choose songs without lyrics, as these are least likely to become stuck. Avoid simple instrumentals like the Pachelbel Canon, or the theme songs to films like The Pink Panther or Mission Impossible. The 1812 Overture or The William Tell Overture should also be avoided.
If despite these tricks, you do not get a song out of your head, a degree of acceptance about the matter may help the song go away sooner. Try to ignore the song, like one might ignore background music at work or in an elevator. Sooner or later, your brain will become engaged in something else, which will dislodge the irritating earworm.